Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday called for the creation of an "investigator general" to address complaints in local school systems, arguing that parents — who have complained over the past year about altered grades in Prince George's County and inadequate heating and air conditioning systems in Baltimore City and Baltimore County — are losing confidence in public schools.
Hogan (R) said an independent investigator would have subpoena power and full authority to investigate ethical claims and corruption allegations against school officials. The position, which must be approved by the Democratic-majority General Assembly, would be based in the state Department of Education.
"Taxpayers, parents, teachers and especially students have a right to expect, and they deserve, more accountability," Hogan said at a news conference to announce education bills he plans to propose during the 2018 legislative session.
Hogan said he also will submit a bill to change the schools accountability plan the General Assembly approved over his objections last year, reviving an issue that resulted in a veto override. In addition, he announced a bill to provide emergency funds to help pay for heating repairs in Baltimore City schools, which closed some buildings last week, and again Monday, because of extreme cold.
Aides to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said they had not seen the proposals and declined to comment.
Sean Johnson, the director of legislative affairs for the Maryland State Education Association, called the investigator general proposal "a tool to go on a fishing expedition to create a lack of public trust in public schools."
He said the governor should focus instead on the work of the Kirwan Commission, a panel examining whether current school-funding formulas are equitable.
"The governor should stop attacking our public schools and start rolling up his sleeves with the rest of the state's leaders to reverse this shameful underfunding and make sure the Kirwan Commission's recommendations become law," Johnson said.
Hogan said school leaders have "repeatedly failed" their students.
The governor has been particularly critical of facilities problems in both Baltimore City and County, and of Prince George's response to a graduation-rate scandal.
He says Prince George's County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Hogan in November, and Kevin Maxwell, Baker's handpicked schools chief, have not responded adequately to allegations that school officials changed grades so that more students could get their high school diplomas.
On Monday, Maxwell said Hogan "has not provided any details" of his proposal for an investigator general "and he hasn't asked for any input from school superintendents about how best to support our public schools."
Prince George's school board member Edward Burroughs, the leader of the group that brought the grade-changing allegations to light, said he would welcome an independent investigator.
The state board of education "does not have the capacity to investigate wrongdoing on a larger scale," Burroughs said. "So to have an [investigator general] with the ability to subpoena documents, the ability to compel people to testify and to refer individuals that have done unethical things to law enforcement is an important thing."
Del. Alonzo T. Washington (D), a lawmaker from Prince George's, has proposed a bill to create a similar position solely for that county's school system.
Montgomery County school board member Patricia O'Neill said she sees no sign of diminishing confidence in public education but also has no problem with an investigator-general approach to accountability.
"I think every school system, every public entity, needs to be held accountable," she said.
To address heating and air conditioning repairs at Baltimore schools, Hogan said he will propose emergency legislation to provide $2.5 million in emergency state funds.
"This is not to reward these people responsible who have failed," the governor said. "This is about saving kids from being freezing in winter and from sweating . . . in warm weather."
Over the past week, city and state officials have battled over who is responsible for the nearly 60 schools in the city that lacked heat during a historic cold spell. Some repairs were done over the weekend, but eight schools were closed Monday morning for facilities issues.
The governor's school accountability proposal would change a performance plan approved by the General Assembly last year. That plan, which had the support of the state's teachers union, says 65 percent of a school's rating would be based on academic indicators such as standardized testing, student achievement, student growth and graduation.
The rest of the rating would depend "school quality" indicators such as absenteeism, school climate and access to a well-rounded curriculum.
Hogan wanted academic indicators to count more heavily. He vetoed the bill, but the legislature voted to override the veto.
At the news conference, Hogan said he will propose a bill to raise the weighting of academic indicators to 80 percent.
O'Neill took issue with the idea of increasing the weight of test scores in determining school performance. Strong outcomes, she said, are the result of multiple factors, including good teaching and strong school leadership. While it is important to hold school systems accountable for every child, she said, "an overemphasis on testing does not improve public education."